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Putting Theory Into Practice Part 12: The Interviews

Okay time to get down to business and conduct the actual interviews.  By now we will have formulated the questions (see part 9: Designing the VoC Research) to drill down to understand the jobs people are trying to do, how they define their desired outcomes (satisfaction), and the context and constraints that prevent them from achieving 100% of their desired outcomes

We will also have created a Customer Visit Matrix (see part 10: Creating a Customer Visit Matrix) and scheduled interview appointments with targeted subjects who we believe will provide insights into creating a solution that solves a real pain. Note that the customer visit matrix will be a work in progress we will continue to grow till we achieve our interview count objectives. A great source of qualified subjects will come from our interview subjects – definitely ask them for referrals and introductions.

Here are some questions and answers to help you prepare for your interviews:

Who should be on the interviewing team

I recommend at a minimum of two people be on your interview team but no more than three.

  1. Lead interviewer: The most important person will be the lead interviewer who is trained in probing and listening skills. Ideally this person is not emotionally attached to the project so as not to introduce confirmation bias (i.e. ask questions and hear answers that unfairly confirms and/or refutes the hypotheses under test). This is not mandatory but you should consider hiring a professional interviewer who is trained in the techniques of VoC interviewing and who  will not have a personal stake in the outcome of the results – i.e. not biased one way or the other. Yes this can be an internal person but if it’s a project lead, be careful cognitive bias is not introduced.

  2. Observer, scribe and domain expert:  The role of this person is primarily to listen and observe the interview conversation. Having two sets of ears provides a more diverse interpretation of the rich data set you will create. This person can also be used to clarify questions as well as help drill deeper on key response threads. Caution must be exercised though – the domain expert must not go into a selling mode or bias the test subject in any manner. And this person must follow the lead interviewer and not dominate the conversation.

  3. Third observer and 2nd scribe.  One more set of ears never hurts and if possible rotating team members to sit in on the call to hear inputs first hand builds additional user empathy.  Again this person needs to be an observer and not participate in the discussion unless prompted by the lead interviewer to participate.

Should we record the conversation?

Yes if possible but get permission upfront before you record the conversation. There are legal, ethical and relationship building reasons for getting permission to record the conversation. I have found that most people are open to be recorded if you provide them why you want to record the conversation and the “rules of the road” of how the recorded information (and the information in general) will be used and not be used.  Here’s a script I use to get permission to record the conversation:

“With your permission, of course, I’d like to tape the interview so that I can be sure I capture your comments accurately.  We are really interested in what you have to say and I want to be able to listen and not spend all my time scribbling notes. Will that be okay?”

If the subject doesn’t want to be recorded, don’t press the issue. Hopefully you will have one or two scribes helping you record notes to capture as much data as you can.

And of course if you do get permission to record the conversation do get transcripts made. Though you might want to listen to the actual conversation via audio to pick up on nuances  – it’s the transcripts that provide the rich data that we can mine from the conversation. There are many good services available who can transcribe your audio for you – the cost is very reasonable and well worth it versus trying to listen to the audio latter on to extract information – so get transcripts!

Can we run over the allotted time?

This is a judgment call but generally speaking I recommend you stick to the allotted time and if you are running over time ask the subject if they are willing to spend a couple more minutes with you to wrap up the conversation. Remember subjects are doing you a huge favor so respect their time and don’t abuse the privilege.

What if we don’t cover all the questions – what do we do?

Depending on the amount and depth of your questions, there is a very good chance you will run out of time.  You will find the VoC conversations to be extremely engaging and time will fly by like crazy. Two recommendations for you:

  1. Prioritize the key questions that you must have answered and accept the fact that not all of the questions you want to explore will get addressed

  2. Stick to your interview script and manage your time. Move the conversation along, some of your subjects will want to talk and talk. You will need to actively facilitate the conversation to keep on track.

Should we ask subjects for referrals to other people in their network who we might talk to?

Yes absolutely!  At the end of the interview as you are wrapping things up – and assuming you have created a good rapport with the interviewee, then by all means ask for referrals to other people who they believe can provide you good insights. I have found this to be a great way in finding qualified people to talk too while also getting a “warm lead” into them.

And also before you end the conversation ask the subject if it’s okay to contact them again to clarify any answers they provided. Most people will say yes – and many of the subjects will evolve into future sources of information and possible other deeper relationships with you as the concept evolves from idea to great product.

I have only touched on a few of the techniques in conducting the interviews. Hopefully this will give you a good start. Again if you plan to do a formal VoC project it pays to get a trained  VoC lead  to help define and execute the VoC project. It’s worth the investment.

Just a few more tips and ideas to will come in my next couple of blogs to finish up our series – next blog I’ll talk about how to organize and analyze the data. You will be amazed on what you can mine form good VoC data.



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